Hunt continues for Philly physicists tracking elusive Higgs Boson

    A University of Pennsylvania scientist was among the crowd of physicists in Geneva Tuesday for a highly anticipated announcement about the so-called “God particle.”

    Penn physicist Brig Williams said scientists came out of the woodwork to hear the latest research on the Higgs boson, an elusive subatomic particle that could explain why the universe has mass.

    “I saw a lot of physicists I haven’t seen in decades who basically came to be there to hear first hand the results,” Williams said.

    Williams and about 30 colleagues at Penn work on ATLAS, one of two large, international teams using data from the $10 billion Large Hadron Collider near Geneva to look for evidence of the particle. Prior to the announcement, Williams said he worried that the other team might have beaten his team to the punch with more conclusive evidence.

    “I and a lot of other people on ATLAS were very nervous that CMS [the other Higgs-hunting team] may have something considerably more significant,” Williams said.

    In fact, neither team offered evidence that proved the particle’s existence, but both revealed they had seen hints of it in the same mass range, suggesting they are looking in the right place.

    “The window of where the Higgs might be is getting smaller and smaller,” Williams said. “So we’re now pretty confident that we’re focused on a pretty small area and probably over the next year we’re either going to find it or we’re going to say it doesn’t exist.”

    The particle is considered the missing piece of the Standard Model, the fundamental theory that explains how all particles interact.

    Joseph Kroll, another Penn physics professor involved in the project, said finding the Higgs would be a “tremendously exciting achievement for mankind.”

    “The Standard Model of particle physics is definitely one of man’s greatest intellectual achievements,” Kroll said. “And this is the current unfound piece of that standard model, so finding it would seal that intellectual achievement.”

    The particle decays too quickly to observe or measure, so researchers study the even smaller particles into which they decay.

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